The Origin of Ile-Ife

The Holy City

According to Yoruba mythology, Olodumare, the Supreme god, ordered Obatala to create the earth, but on his way he found palm wine which he drank and became intoxicated. Therefore, the younger brother of the latter, Oduduwa, took the three items of creation from him, climbed down from the heavens on a chain and threw a handful of earth on the primordial ocean, then put a cockerel on it so that it would scatter the earth, thus creating the land on which Ile Ife would be built.

Oduduwa planted a palm nut in a hole in the newly formed land and from there sprang a great tree with sixteen branches, a symbolic representation of the clans of the early Ife city-state. The usurpation of creation by Oduduwa gave rise to the ever lasting conflict between him and his elder brother Obatala, which is still re-enacted in the modern era by the cult groups of the two clans during the Itapa New Year festival. On account of his creation of the world Oduduwa became the ancestor of the first divine king of the Yoruba, while Obatala is believed to have created the first Yoruba people out of clay. The meaning of the word “ife” in Yoruba is “expansion”; “Ile-Ife” is therefore in reference to the myth of origin “The Land of Expansion”.

Ile-Ife, the cradle of the Yorubas, the city of survivors, spiritual seat of the Yorubas, where the dawn of the day was first experienced, the source, the head of the whole universe, the land of the most ancient day, the home of divinities is to the people of Ife “ILURUN” i.e Gateway to heaven. Ile-Ife is located in the South Western part of Nigeria, West Africa.

The history of Ife can also be chronologically divided into three periods: The first Ife was known as Ife Oodaye, Ile owuro, ibiti oju ti mo, that is, the land of most ancient days where the dawn of the day was first experienced. The inhabitants of Ife Oodaye were believed to be powerful giants with mystic abilities. Tradition claims that the life of this community came to an end as a result of flood which flushed the whole area occupied by the community. Those who survived the deluge formed the nucleus of the community that formed the second era of the history of Ife.

The second Ife was called Ife Ooyelagbo, that is, the city of the survivors. Tradition maintains that the second Ife lasted until the arrival of some strangers who entered the city of Ile-Ife from the “East”. An attempt made by the strangers to seize power from the aborigines on the land led to a bloody struggle between the strangers led by the Oduduwa on one hand and the aborigines led by Obatala, eventually Oduduwa and his groups won the war.

The third Ife is called Ile-Ife founded with the arrival of Oduduwa and his groups. It is believed that Oduduwa, the founder of the Yoruba raced emerged after the deluge, he (Oduduwa) and his followers descended on to dry land by means of chain ropes from their life boat (hence the saying Oduduwa afi won ron). And later anchored on Oke-Ora (Oranfe Hill) between Ile-Ife and Itagunmodi on the Ife-Ilesa road, from where they came to Moore quarter in Ile-Ife.

Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), one of the leading academic institutions in West Africa, is the major institution of higher learning in the city. Founded in 1962 as the University of Ife, it was rechristened by the Federal Military Government of Nigeria as the Obafemi Awolowo University on May 12, 1987, in honor of one of its most distinguished founding fathers, eminent nationalist and former Chancellor, Chief Jeremiah Obafemi Awolowo (1909–1987).

In the centre of modern Ile-Ife is the afin (“Palace”) of the present Ooni, the spiritual head of the Yoruba people, who has custody of the sacred staff of Oranmiyan (Oranyan), an 18-foot (5.5-metre) granite monolith in the shape of an elephant’s tusk. The Palace compound is also the site of the Ife Museum (1954), which contains a collection of cire-perdue bronze castings and terra-cotta sculptures that was partly acquired by the German archaeologist Leo Frobenius in 1910 and subsequently expanded through excavations at the Wunmonije compound (1938–39) and at nearby Ita Yemoo (1957)

Origin of the regional States : Disperal from the Holy city of Ife, Oduduwa had sons, daughters and a grandson who went onto found their own Kingdoms and Empires, namely Ila Orangun, Owu, Ketu, Sabe, Popo and Oyo. Oranmiyan , Oduduwa’s last born, was one of his fathers principal ministers and overseer of the nascent Edo Empire, after Oduduwa granted the pleas of the Edo people for his governance.

When Oranmiyan decided to go back to Ile Ife after a period of service in Benin, he left behind a child called Eweka , that he had in the interim with an indigenous Princess. The young boy went on to become the first legitimate ruler of the second Edo dynasty, that has ruled what is now Benin. Oranmiyan later went onto found the Oyo Empire that stretched at its height from the western banks of the river Niger, to the Eastern banks of the river Volta. It would serve as one of the most powerful of Africa’s medieval States prior to its collapse in the 19th Century.